Should We Take The Bible Literally?

 

Once again I found myself dealing with a Christian pro-spanker that insists that the “rod verses” in the book of Proverbs must be taken literally.  Yet, when I asked the following questions, the pro-spanker couldn’t answer:

*If we must spank/hit our children then shouldn’t we also stone people, cut off body parts, pluck eyes out?

*And what about slavery?  Shouldn’t we continue to keep slaves?

*Shouldn’t we also sacrifice animals for our sins?

People pick and choose what to take literally. It makes no sense to take a few verses literally to justify spanking/hitting children but not other harsh verses.

The Bible was written for us, not to us. As I have said many times, we must seek to understand the historical and cultural context of Scripture.  We must also study the original languages of the Bible to truly understand what it’s saying and how to apply it to us.

Not every Scripture is meant to be directly applied to us!  We are to learn from all Scripture, but because of what Jesus did on the cross, we do not need to directly apply every single Scripture to our lives.  To do so is to downplay what Jesus did for all of humanity on the cross!

“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, NASB).

After a while, the pro-spanker tried to answer the questions above by saying that we no longer live under the Law, but rather, we live under grace.

Exactly!  And this grace applies to children as well.  Jesus freed us from the Law.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18).

When we spank, we are parenting under the Law. We are not accepting the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus. Jesus died for us. He was beaten to a bloody pulp for us. Why do we feel we must beat, spank, and hit our young children who do not understand sin nor physical punishment?

“In regard to evil be infants” (1 Corinthians 14:20b).

If we are to interpret all of the “rod” verses that appear to advocate spanking/hitting children with a large weapon with spikes on it literally, then we must take all of the other harsh verses in the Bible literally.  Who are we to apply only a handful of verses to inflict pain on children but not do everything else in the Bible?

After all, the Bible also says:

“Stripes that wound scour away evil, And strokes reach the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30, NASB).

I truly do not believe that God wanted us to take the entire Bible literally.  Rather, we are to see how God redeemed His people.  The Bible is meant to be read in a redemption manner.

For more information about how to interpret the “rod verses” in Proverbs, please click here.

Finally, as Christ-followers should easily realize that all the verses telling us to be kind, merciful, graceful, gentle, peaceful, loving, forgiving, and patient with one another apply to children too. Jesus is our example!

In fact, Ephesians 5:1-2 says,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

So to imitate God is to walk in love, not hurt each other. And the fruit of the Spirit is:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, *gentleness,* self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

I will end with two final verses.

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

God favors mercy over judgement.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance, not fear and pain.  This is what we should take literally!

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Withhold Use Of “The Rod” On Your Children To Truly Love Them

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24, NASB).

Many Christians misinterpret this verse to mean that they must spank/hit their children if they truly love them.  But, as with all of the “rod” verses in the book of Proverbs, this was never intended to be taken literally.  Let’s examine a few key points regarding why this verse means to teach and guide rather than to spank/hit children.

  1.  Shepherds never hit their sheep. Nor did they break their sheep’s legs when the sheep wandered away. Rather, shepherds used their rods to protect their sheep. If you injured a sheep and had to carry it around, that sheep as well as the entire herd, would be more vulnerable to predators. Using the rod against the predator protected the sheep.  Therefore, we are to use the rod to protect our children against our number one predator: satan!
  2. This leads us to the Hebrew word for “rod,” which is Shebet.  Yes, it was a big, heavy stick that was used in the Bible to strike people. But, the only people it was used to strike were adults in the Bible.  Not once was a child ever hit with the rod in the Bible. It would have killed the child.  Shebet is also symbolic of authority. It makes more sense that we are to use our authority to teach and guide children.
  3. Love doesn’t hurt. Or at least it shouldn’t!  God came down as Jesus to take the horrible punishment for all of humanity’s sins!  We now live in the age of grace!  Not once did Jesus mention using corporal punishment with children.  Yes, we are to discipline them as this verse clearly states. But inflicting physical pain does not constitute Biblical discipline.
  4. This is not a mandate from God to spank children in order to show love to them. Love and this type of pain never go together. What this is saying is that parents who love their children will discipline (teach and guide) children in a manner that will enable the children to thrive and will ultimately lead them to Christ. Spanking and permissive parenting do the exact opposite of what this verse is saying. Being hit or not being disciplined at all does not make children feel loved by their parents. Hurting children intentionally never accurately shows love for them. God does not intentionally hurt us to show His love for us as God is love. The Bible is also quite clear on what love is and is not.
  5. Interestingly, many use the saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” to try and summarize the above Proverb.  However, it is not in the Bible and comes from a seventeenth century poem dealing with sex.

Here is what the Bible tells us love is:

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NASB).

It is quite obvious that according to the Bible as a whole, spanking/hitting does not fit into the definition of love.  Discipline your children to love them.  Use the rod against the enemy, not the children!

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Sacrifice And Love For Others–Especially Our Children

Romans 15:1-7:

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

I think this Scripture is key in how we should interact with others, especially our children. It seems that many Christians are not willing to self-sacrifice for the betterment of others. If it’s not convenient for us, then we won’t sacrifice for others.

Guess what!  Being crucified on a cross was not convenient to Jesus, but because He loved us so much, He died a horrific death for us–His beloved children!

I think it’s beyond sad that many popular, mainstream “Christian child-rearing experts” actually discourage parents from self-sacrificing for their children. Instead of rearranging their lives to include children, these “experts” teach parents to force a new human being to fit within the parents’ lives so the child knows that he/she is not too important.

How is that obeying what God clearly lays out in the above Scripture?  Children are indeed weaker than us. They need constant care and guidance from us which should involve major self-sacrifice from us.

Leaving infants to cry-it-out so that we can get a good night’s sleep is not self-sacrificing nor is it accepting infants for who they are.

Staying up with them and engaging in nighttime parenting despite being absolutely exhausted is self-sacrificing and accepting them.

Spanking/hitting, using time-out, shaming, arbitrarily taking things away, yelling, and other harsh punishment with our children is not self-sacrificing or accepting children.

Doing the hard work of disciplining (teaching, guiding, correcting) using positive, respectful, and gentle techniques such as modeling, child-proofing, validating feelings, fulfilling the child’s physical and emotional needs, setting realistic limits and boundaries, helping children comply, giving choices, and using natural and logical consequences with children is self-sacrificing and accepting of our children.

Most Christian claim that if they don’t spank/hit and “teach” their children that the world does not revolve around them that their children will turn into self-entitled brats.  Let me tell you this: Children learn by our actions. Some of the most self-entitled people I know grew up in punitive households where they were constantly “put in their places.”  Their parents were so focused on forcing their children into self-sacrifice that the children never truly learned how to sacrifice for the sake of others.

True love means being willing to sacrifice, accept, give grace and mercy for another no matter how inconvenient it is to us. We must model this to our children.

Biblical love does not involve inflicting pain on children as many Christians still believe due to errant interpretation of this verse:

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24, NASB).

In order to understand this, we need to understand that the Biblical Rod was a big, heavy stick with spikes on it. Shepherds never hit their own sheep with the rod. Rather, they used it to protect their sheep from predators. We need to do the same with our children. We need to sacrifice ourselves in order to protect our children from the enemy, satan, who comes to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).

Biblical love is clearly defined as:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cornithians 13:4-7, ESV).

May we use self-sacrifice to truly love our children and everyone!

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All About “Gentle Firmness!”

As an early childhood professional and Christian, it is important for me to dispel the widely held myth that God wants us to spank our children. Leaving infants to cry-it-out is another big trend within some Christian circles. Neither of these practices are Biblical, and are actually quite damaging to the young brain. This is why I wrote the book, Gentle Firmness. Christian parents need to be informed that the mainstream Christian parenting advice is not only not Biblical, but it deeply scars their children.

With my deep love of young children, I have always struggled with the rod verses in the book of Proverbs that seem to advocate spanking children, because seeing how children react to being spanked, and knowing what I know about how young children learn, it just never made sense that God would want children to be spanked. For example, I saw the heartbreaking event of a wonderful Christian mother who truly wanted to do the best for her children, slap her toddler’s hand for the first time because he kept touching something she didn’t want him to. It took a couple slaps before he confusingly looked at his stinging hand then at his mom to try to figure out why she hit him. I’ve also seen children “lovingly” spanked and still freeze up when they disobeyed. Interestingly, when positive discipline was used with these children, they cooperated.

Let me briefly explain that the Biblical rod was a huge heavy walking stick with spikes on one end of it. Shepherds never hit their sheep with it nor did they break the sheep’s leg. The rod was used to protect the sheep from predators. The Hebrew word for the rod is Shebet. This is symbolic for authority and discipline. It was never intended to be used to hit young children.

Another thing is that if God truly wanted children to be spanked, there would be zero neurological, psychological, or spiritual harm done to the children. But research shows otherwise. Even so called “lovingly” spanking is very harmful. And if some Christians are wary of research, many researchers actually are Christians. I cover this research in depth in my book. Romans 1 says we can learn much about God by looking at His creation.

I can also attest that leaving infants to cry-it-out always harms as crying is the only way infants can communicate. Sure, they eventually stop and “sleep” when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is. Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress. Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur. As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but ignoring their outright cries is not.

Understanding child development is crucial to disciplining children appropriately. When we see that God actually created children to go through each developmental stage, we can figure out kinder, merciful ways of guiding them through each stage. The Bible says that children are blessings from God in Psalm 127:3. Yet, more often than not, they are treated as little sinners in need of the devil beaten out of them. Jesus says we are to be like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 18. Jesus raised the status of children. I also discuss attachment theory in my book as God created infants to cry in order to communicate with us. Crying is never manipulative for infants 12 months and under. God always hears and comforts us when we cry out to Him. We must do the same for our children.

The reason I named my book “Gentle Firmness” is that discipline must be gentle but firm in order to be effective. If discipline is only gentle, then it’s too permissive. If discipline is only firm, then it turns into punishment. Children need gentle but firm discipline. The principles of Attachment Parenting encourage gentle but firm discipline for all children. All children deserve sensitive, respectful care.

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What is Proverbs 23:13-14 Actually Saying?

Do not hold back discipline from the child,
Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
You shall strike him with the rod
And rescue his soul from Sheol”
Proverbs 23:13-14 NASB

So many Christians believe this verse and the other “Rod” verses are to be taken literally. Some very watered down versions of the Bible even say to spank. But, if we were to take this literally, wouldn’t that make God a liar?

Let’s think about this.

1. The Hebrew word for rod is Shebet. It was a big heavy stick with spikes on it. Striking a small child with this instrument even gently would kill the child.

2. Sheol is the Hebrew word for death, not Hell, as many Christians believe. To say that spanking/hitting children will save them from Hell would discredit the horrible suffering and agony of what Christ did on the cross. All we would need to be saved from Hell would be a good beating. Yet, many reject God due to “loving spankings.”

3. Many children have physically died from spankings. This verse and the rest of the Bible does not give “rules” on how not to go too far. In fact, the King James Version of the Bible, which many fundamentalist Christians tout as the “only true version,” tells us to beat children with the rod.

Again, this would make God a liar to say that a child will not die if we beat her/him. God NEVER lies (“so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18, NASB)!

4. Even if children don’t physically die after being spanked/hit, an emotional/spiritual part of them does die and their brains are damaged. This is NOT good. This makes it harder for them to receive God’s grace.

5. Jesus said a lot about children. Why did He not talk about spanking/hitting them?

Considering all these facts, which I explore much more deeply in my book, Gentle Firmness, wouldn’t it make more sense to interpret these verses in keeping with the original context and actual meanings?

The deeper we look into the original context and meaning, the clearer it becomes that God never intended for children to be spanked/hit.

If we discipline children with God’s Word, they will not die.

If we protect children with the rod, they will not die.

If we use our authority properly to teach and guide our children in a gentle but firm way, they will not die.
Punishment leads to death. Discipline leads to LIFE!

“But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”
Matthew 19:14 NASB

Let’s listen to Jesus instead of man!

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Beware of Distorting Scripture

2 Peter 3:14-18:

“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

I see the Church today distorting the Scriptures a lot in order to fit their beliefs.

Some Christians claim that drinking alcohol is unBiblical when the Bible says alcohol is just fine as long as we don’t get drunk. They also claim that some natural remedies are satanic despite research showing their amazing healing and preventive abilities.  Not to mention the fact that these remedies were used in the Bible.

Some Christians claim dancing is unBiblical, yet, David danced for joy in the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14).

Many Christians believe that babies are born “sinful,” yet, God calls them blessings (Psalm 127:3).  Infants and young children even have a special knowledge of Who God is according to Matthew 25:11. Also, James 4:17 states, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This can only apply to older children and adults who truly understand sin. “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39). God clearly says children do not know right from wrong.  Still, Christians will fire off a few verses out of the Book of Romans to say we are born “evil.”  If that were true, young children, who lack impulse control due to immature brain development, would be horrible little people committing awful acts based on their fleshly impulses.  Yes, I believe that due to satan and sin being in the world that we will all eventually sin and will need to come to Jesus for His amazing grace and forgiveness, but babies and young children do nothing that is purposely malicious or against God.

And then there are the Christian pro-spankers who adamantly claim that spanking/hitting children is absolutely Biblical. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard them say, “Well, I read my Bible” as they cite all of the “rod verses” from Proverbs that seem to promote spanking/hitting children at me.  Yet a deeper look at the “rod verses” shows that they mean to discipline (teach, guide, correct) with authority and God’s Word instead of spank/hit.

And THAT’S the problem!  As the introductory verses of this post teach, it is the untaught and the unstable who tend to distort Scriptures. Some do it unintentionally (the untaught) while others do it intentionally because they’re unwilling to let go of their beliefs (the unstable). I’ve been guilty of blindly taking Church doctrine as Biblical Truth because of not knowing better.

The Bible, while alive and active, is not meant to be read without looking at the historical context, cultural context, and the meanings of the original languages in which the Scriptures were written. And some Bible versions such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV) are more accurate than the modern watered down versions such as the The Message, the New Living Translation (NLT), and even the New International Version (NIV) because church doctrine has ended up getting in these modern versions. Some parts of the Bible are meant to be taken literally while others are not. We shouldn’t be satisfied with just going with whatever the Church says it means based on the particular denomination that fits with our beliefs.  As Samuel Martin often says, we must be very careful of “tip of the iceberg theology” as it distorts Scripture…The very thing 2 Peter 3:14-18 tells us not to do.

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